How hard is it to buy a beer in Ontario?
How does the sale of alcoholic beverages work in the province? Find out the main players and retailers in the province.
The truth is: not hard at all. Just different, especially if you’re not used to the concept of Liquor Stores.
One of the first significant differences I’ve encountered after moving from Brazil to Canada was the fact that it just wasn’t that easy to get a beer. I couldn’t just go do my groceries and buy a 6 pack (you can now, sometimes).
It took me a bit to figure out why I couldn’t find the beer aisle in the supermarket.
Being from Brazil I’m used to buying a beer pretty much anywhere (markets, bakeries, pharmacies, gas stations, you name it) crack it open and stroll around sipping it.
A few days later my neighbor explained how it worked around here. I was familiar with the liquor store concept from the United States, I had traveled there many times, but beers are sold in supermarkets and convenience stores.
In Canada, as in the USA, the provinces have the control over the sale of alcohol. In Ontario specifically, the Liquor Control Act is the legislation that regulates all things related to alcoholic beverages, from manufacture to consumer’s age (19 years old).
It’s a bit more complicated than it should be, but to give you an overall idea (which is more than enough) it plays out like this:
There are two agencies authorized by the Act to govern the industry: The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). Each is responsible for different parts of the law.
The LCBO basically tends to importation and all retail-related activities. Owning and operating the largest retail chain of liquor stores in the world and also being the single largest importer of such products worldwide.
The LCBO and The Beer Store are the only two places where you can buy your alcohol in the province. Or they would be if not for a section of the law that permits a local producer to have its own retail. There are a few very local stores dedicated to the sale of, mostly Ontario wines, with one exception: Wine Rack.
Wine Rack is a division of Arterra Wines Canada, which is a very large holding of wineries and wine brands around the world. It retails wines produced by Arterra’s local brands and has over 160 locations and many of them are located inside supermarkets.
In 2016 a test was conducted to allow beer and cider sales in supermarkets. A select few stores (less than 200) were awarded a special permit. The test was considered successful and since then a growing number of retailers are being awarded the same benefits.
One last important detail is that all workers that are involved in the industry must be licensed. Smart Serve is the certification and if you as much as clean a warehouse where alcoholic beverages are stored, you need it.
How does the Liquor Control Act affect you?
If you are a restaurant or other business that serves alcohol, you can only buy products from the LCBO, The Beer Store or directly from local producers/authorized agents. Even if you are a producer, a winery, for example, you have to sell the wine you make to the LCBO and then buy it back in order to sell it at your local store. Sounds crazy right?
If you’re a worker, you are responsible (by law) for whomever you are selling/serving. You are liable for their safety and the safety of others (if affected by them). This being another long subject I intend to write a post exclusively approaching Smart Serve certification.
Whether you are a newcomer just trying to understand this market like I once did, or if you’re looking into becoming part of the service industry and didn’t really know what’s going on I hope this post helped.